A Taiwanese court has convicted two Suncity-linked individuals of providing customer support for a live baccarat website out of the Philippines, offering a first hard indication that broad junket-style gambling services breach Taiwanese law.
The Shilin District Court in Taipei on February 18 found sole director Pan Hsiao-fen and employee Wu Cheng-chieh, of a company translatable as Sun International Entertainment Limited Co, guilty of facilitating gambling on the website.
It sentenced them to six and five months in jail, respectively, although both sentences are convertible to fines.
The two men assisted customers of www.scm888.com with registering gambling accounts, transferral of gaming funds, redemption of winnings and losses, and instructions on how to play baccarat, according to the judgment.
A second charge of introducing players to Macau casinos was not upheld because of a lack of evidence on the business operations of the junkets in question.
However, the judgment suggests that sufficient evidence of profit-seeking by junkets would likely result in a guilty verdict on that charge, counsel for one of the defendants told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
A third defendant, the company’s accountant, was exonerated after the court found he was unaware of the illegal nature of the business he was conducting.
Although legally independent of Macau’s one-time junket behemoth Suncity, Sun International served as a sub-agent of the Macau operation, according to the judges.
David Lee, a gaming law specialist with Taipei-based Lin & Partners, said on Monday (March 21) that this case is the “very first judgment directly addressing the legality of junket businesses in Taiwan”.
“Casino operators are advised to carefully review their current business models in Taiwan,” he said, adding they should consider the impact of the decision “on their business, reputation, and compliance record if their junkets’ businesses are considered illegal in Taiwan”.
The ruling is likely to be appealed, Lee said, but for the moment the court’s position further limits support services for both land-based and online gambling segments, including business-to-business (B2B) interests.
Taiwanese players, although small in number compared with the Chinese market, nonetheless provide a meaningful proportion of revenue to the region’s casinos and online operations.
Junkets are also being shut out of most of the Australian market by regulators and legislatures amid explosive inquiries into Crown Resorts and The Star Entertainment Group, the nation’s two largest casino operators.
However, significant junket operations continue in the Philippines and South Korea, and possibly will emerge in Japan after integrated resorts open there later this decade.
Junket branch activity first came into Taiwan’s judicial spotlight in January 2013, when a subsidiary of Melco Crown, Melco Resorts and Entertainment’s predecessor venture with Crown Resorts, was raided and four current and former employees charged.
All four were exonerated on appeal, but their criminal jeopardy was based in allegedly underground, cross-border bank transfers. The legality of junket services in general was not the focus of the case.